Some of the companies involved in building Carson’s presidential fundraising capacity have contributed to soaring Carson campaign expenses.
Watts said the campaign looked to President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign outreach to small donors for inspiration, but couldn’t just rely on lower-cost digital efforts.
“We're Republicans,” he said. “We have a different marketplace.”
Key players in the campaign fundraising effort include Ken Dawson, the president of Eleventy Marketing Group, who is the campaign’s chief marketing officer. Eleventy Marketing also worked for American Legacy PAC.
The Carson campaign paid Eleventy Marketing $4.7 million during the first nine months of 2015 for database management services and other purposes, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Dawson said the company was responsible for the campaign’s initial online setup and its digital ads. He and Watts both said social media has been an important artery through which the campaign has reached supporters. Carson’s Facebook page is hovering on the verge of 5 million “likes,” and Dawson said Facebook has helped the campaign both attract contributions and add to its supporter list.
“It’s been amazing,” he said. “Ultimately we’re turning those people into donors immediately.”
Infocision, an Akron, Ohio-based telemarketing firm that has come under heavy criticism for using aggressive tactics, is another.
The firm was American Legacy PAC’s biggest vendor in the 2014 election cycle and has so far received nearly $2 million from the Carson campaign. Carson himself visited the company’s office in Green, Ohio, in July.
Watts said the campaign used Infocision because it is one of the biggest companies in the industry. Asked about criticism that the company targets the elderly and has provided misleading information, he said, “I can tell you this: We go through their scripts every week, and we wouldn’t abide by that sort of thing.”
The company has up to 400 people making calls for the campaign on heavy nights, he said, which isn’t cheap.
Watts described the campaign’s contract with Infocision as one calling for “no net loss.” The purpose of the telemarketing, he said, is to build the campaign’s own list, so it can go back to contributors far more cheaply.
“We didn’t have Jeb Bush’s Rolodex,” he said of the former Florida governor-turned-presidential-candidate whose father and brother have already served as president.
Then there’s Mike Murray, the founder of American Legacy PAC, who’s now a senior adviser to the Carson campaign and oversees the campaign’s grassroots fundraising. Murray is also the president and chief executive officer of TMA Direct, a marketing firm.
The Carson campaign paid TMA Direct almost $2.7 million during the first nine months of 2015.
Watts, Giles and Bill Millis, a former Carson campaign national board member who has also been a supporter, donor and fundraiser, all said Murray deserves significant credit for the campaign’s fundraising success.
Murray said that while working with Carson on American Legacy PAC’s healthcare campaign, he saw how Carson connected with people. He also witnessed how the number of attendees at events featuring Carson far exceeded what anyone expected.
“It has to do with his tone, his biography, his respectability — all the things that make him what he is,” Murray said.
Murray, Watts, Giles and Millis all said fundraising costs should decline as a percentage of the total amount of money raised now that they can rely less on the most expensive supporter-prospecting methods like direct mail.
Millis, the campaign board member, said live fundraising events he’s helped organize have also yielded good money among motivated supporters. This autumn, for example, one in Charlotte, North Carolina, raised about $200,000, he said.
“I’ve never, ever been this involved,” Millis said in a mid-November interview.
But after Millis was interviewed for this story, he stepped down from the campaign’s board, citing differences over how the campaign was being run. It’s an indication that despite the Carson campaign’s fundraising success, the campaign is experiencing turbulence as the nation’s first presidential caucuses and primary contests near.
In an email to the Center for Public Integrity, Millis said he would continue to support Carson’s candidacy.
Giles, for his part, left the campaign in May and spent months working with super PACs supporting Carson’s bid, attempting to streamline their efforts.
He is no longer doing that. He disputes reports that he was pushed out of the campaign and said he is ready, after months of working in the political arena for no pay, to go back to his businesses and spend more time at home. He added that he told Carson to call him if the candidate needs anything.